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The customer is always right or: how I learned to stop worrying and love my clients

Tags: customers, project management
Ju Liu -

TLDR; Make your clients feel special and you will be better at doing your job: they deserve a chance to be understood. Ditch the assholes.

We are freelance web designers and developers. So we basically work with clients everyday. How can we get better at doing this?

The concept behind the motto “the customer is always right” is fascinating and amazing: it was invented by some brilliant salesmen about the last years of the nineteenth century, and at the time it revolutionized the whole idea of selling things to people; those were the years where most of the salesmen would just go with “caveat emptor”, or “buyer beware”, which more or less translates into “you better be careful before buying this, because that’s the shit you’re bringing home”. These guys instead decided to go with “the customer is always right” and “give the lady what she wants”: these choices were much more than successful, and rapidly all the salesmen in the field started using them. The point that I want to make is that we can learn to be better at our jobs by understanding what they meant.

“The customer is always right.”

Nooope. The customer won’t always be right. They will be wrong, wrong and sometimes horribly wrong. The problem with being freelance developers is that you communicate everyday with people which are, morbidly put, tecnologically clueless. They will make very often unreasonable requests. They will not understand your answers. They will make you work nights because they thought “it would be obvious”.

But there will be times when the customer will actually be right™. The problem is that you have accustomed yourself at thinking that the customer is dumb. That the customer is stupid. That, on the contrary, we are so smart. Oh, we never make mistakes.

But when the customer is right and we are wrong, this is when our illusions of grandeur fail so miserably. That’s when our beatifully-crafted snotty remarks to our clients turn so beautifully against us and make us look reeeeeally dumb.

The concept behind all the-customer-is-always-right fuss is that the most sane and productive mental set to approach a client request is:

“This customer may be right, I may be wrong.”

From what I’ve learnt this kind of approach never fails to deliver good results: it makes you look full of attention, professional and caring. I’d venture to say that the crucial point of our job is communicating with our clients, so if we want to become better at our jobs, we have to get better at talking with people, listening to their requests and being as supportive as we can be.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ASSHOLES?

You know what I mean. Despite all your best efforts, there is a guy which blatantly lies to you, makes promises he doesn’t fullfill, shouts and yells all the time. These are times when I ask to myself “Why am I doing this job?” and the answer is generally along the lines “because I like this job, DUH”. So if there is a client which makes your job hard and unfulfilling and crappy (and at the same time isn’t paying you an exorbitant amount of money while doing so, which in most cases it isn’t), I’d say: DITCH'EM.

In my opinion, this is the best and by far most gratifying advantadge of being a freelance guy: You are your own boss. Go out and find a better customer. Go out and find a new customer for whom you can work. Go out and find people with whom it is nice to work with.

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